Fishing for Referrals

Ivan Misner

Just like fishing, the process of meeting people, staying in touch, and then asking for their business is something you can do time after time.

Do referrals happen by accident?

A few years ago, a longstanding member of a business networking organization was talking about canceling his membership—not because he wasn’t getting enough referrals, but because he was getting too much business.

That’s right. Despite a full year of getting great referrals, Steve’s friend Mike didn’t feel that the results proved that networking was a viable business strategy for getting more referrals. He felt that the business he got was based on “chance occurrences”—one person knowing another, who happened to know him—and despite the fact that he kept getting these referrals as a result of his networking contacts, it couldn’t possibly last. So he left the group.

Even though Mike’s misguided reasoning led him down the wrong road, it raises a good question, and understanding the answer could help your business. The question is simply this: Despite the chance nature of networking, is meeting more people something you can count on as a consistent means of getting more business?

Mike’s challenge boiled down to two things: repeatability and understanding. His training told him that the way to get more business was to target a certain kind of customer by calling people from a demographics-based list. If he didn’t have enough business, he needed to make more calls. How many more? He could figure that out, too, because the amount of business he got was directly proportional to the number of people he talked to. It was a repeatable process that he fully understood.

On the other hand, clients he got from referrals always had a story line that he couldn’t see being repeated. Sally knew Jim, who ran into Sue, who happened to be in his group and referred Mike the business. This led Mike to conclude that the results were coincidental and couldn’t possibly be repeated.

Mike’s reasoning wasn’t entirely off track, as far as it went. If you focused on the specific people who gave you the referral, rather than the process and relationships that allowed it to happen, then no, you couldn’t consistently get more business from networking. Or to put it another way: Sally knowing Jim, who runs into Sue and ultimately gives Mike a referral is probably never going to happen again in exactly that way. But if you step back and ask, “Is it possible that somebody will know someone else who’s looking for my services and will then give me that referral?” Well, that’s a whole other story—especially if you focus on building relationships so that there’s always a “somebody.”

What led Mike astray was this: he was thinking about hunting when he should have been thinking about fishing.

A Long and Winding Road

To understand how getting referrals is a lot like fishing, you need to look at the process from a different perspective. When it comes to networking and passing referrals, it’s not about who’s giving what to whom. At no point in this book do we say, “For every referral you give, you can expect one in return.” Nor do we say that when you hand out more referrals, other business professionals will automatically do the same. It just doesn’t work that way.

Think of referral giving in the context of the Abundance Mindset (see previous chapter), which is the awareness that there’s more than enough business to go around. If you hear of a business opportunity that would be well suited for a referral partner—in other words, not your kind of business, but hers—think of it as “excess business.” When you pass this kind of excess business to others in the form of a referral, you’ll wind up attracting more prospects who want to work with you.

Call it an act from the referral gods, but when you do good things for others, those good things have a way of making their way back to you—often from a different person or group of people. Even if it seems that you’re not benefiting from the referrals you’re giving to others, take note of all the other business that “just happens” to come your way:

  • The guy who stumbles across your website and gives you a call.
  • The old prospect you haven’t heard from in months who suddenly wants to get together for lunch.
  • The inactive client who wants to renew his contract with you.

Even though it seems happenstance, some or all of that is likely to be new business you attracted by giving away other business (in the form of referrals) to people you know.

Networking with a Net

Referral networking is a lot like catching fish by casting a net. Each fish comes to the net by a different path; each has a “story” that is not repeated. You doesn’t focus on a particular fish and then try to get it to come to the net—in fact, you usually don’t even see the fish until you pull in the net. Instead, you focus on the action of setting the net. You know that if you set your net correctly and consistently, fish will eventually come, no matter what path they take to get there.

The same is true for getting referrals. The process of meeting people, staying in touch, and then asking for their business is something you can do time after time. You don’t have to worry about how a specific referral got to you, because you understand the process of setting your net.

And here’s the best part: Just as with fishing, your net can be working for you all the time. You don’t have to be there whenever someone you know runs into someone else who could use your services—which means you can be “fishing” in many different ponds simultaneously and reaping tons of new business. This is especially true when you’ve become a referral gatekeeper and begin to get referrals not only from your own network of contacts but from the networks of others as well.

When it comes to networking, there is no coincidence about referrals. They’re the inevitable cumulative result of the day-to-day activities of relationship building. And even though they can’t be measured as easily as cold calls, the results are far more powerful.

Ivan Misner, founder and chairman of BNI, author of The 29% Solution
Copyright 2010, author retains ownership. All Rights Reserved.

Category: Networking
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